Help employees to think and act like active insurance consumers

Gary Cassidy

Let’s face it, if benefits were like cars, employees would pay a lot more attention to plan details before clicking the ENROLL button. People don’t think twice about spending hours or days doing research online or visiting showrooms to compare vehicle features and prices. But give them a benefits plan book and watch their eyes quickly glaze over.

To be fair, benefit plan details are too complicated for most employees to assimilate in one big chunk at open enrollment. They’re likely more focused on how their premiums will impact their paychecks. But do they understand which plan option is the best for their circumstances? Or the cost implications to them (and to your organization) if they continue to smoke or engage in other unhealthy behaviors? Do they comprehend the impact of utilization decisions, such as using an out-of-network provider for non-emergency care, or seeking treatment at the ER instead of an urgent care facility? According to recent research, participants have difficulty grasping even the most basic elements of health coverage. A new study in the Journal of Health Economics reports that only 14 percent of people with health insurance can explain four concepts that are included with most plans: Deductible, co-payments, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximums.

An employee education and communications program delivered in digestible chunks throughout the plan year will help your participants understand how their behaviors and choices could cost them…and your organization. Buy a car without understanding its true operating cost, and regret the decision later. Likewise, people tend to gloss over group employee benefit details and have to face realities later. A communications campaign can help educate them to select the right plan and then use their benefits to achieve and maintain health at the lowest possible cost.

The framework of any successful employee education and communication plan should target engagement. Deploy a strategy that puts health ownership in the hands of employees and watch engagement rise and consumerism increase. Plan participants who understand the ramifications of choosing between A, B and C become empowered and more engaged.

But what’s the best way to achieve engagement and better consumerism? Start by thinking like a product marketer. A campaign for a new car doesn’t start and stop with one billboard. The car company will come at you from many different directions with frequent, simple messages to help you remember.

Through repetitive messaging, you begin to understand how one vehicle is more or less desirable than another vehicle. This knowledge leads to further research and empowers decision-making.

Now think of your employee benefits as part of your organization’s overall brand. Deliver short, repetitive messaging to “sell” your plan or a specific campaign to your audience. Maybe your claims data says your employees aren’t as healthy as they could be. Or your healthcare costs are sky-rocketing because some participants seek care at the ER instead of a primary care physician. Your population health strategy might begin with a campaign about biometric screening or smoking cessation. Your cost-reduction campaign might center on how to save the employee (and your organization) money by selecting the right kind of care, or taking steps to get healthy.

Consult with your group employee benefits broker and look at the big picture. What are your goals now and three years in the future? Your broker can help you devise a communications campaign based on a 12-, 24- or even 36-month calendar that features a new message or program at regular intervals.

Employee education and communication programs should tie in with corporate goals and demonstrate that you care about the employee, both fiscally and physically. And a well-designed campaign puts the responsibility of health and cost control in the employee’s hands. If an employee understands that premiums and the organization’s overall insurance rates are based on utilization and claims experience, there is more of an incentive to get engaged.


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